Today, while discussing the syntax of Romans 1:5 with a friend, I was reminded of a note I originally posted on Tumblr. It is related to Greek syntax, so I thought I would post it here, too.
Because we have been raised with Christ, Colossians 3:1 tells us to “Seek the things above, where Christ is…” Where is Christ? The passage answers, “Seated at the right hand of God” (εν δεξια του θεου καθημενος).
Colossians 3:3 says we died with Christ and our life is now “hidden with Christ.” The next words are usually translated “in God.” That is, our life is hidden “with Christ in God” (συν τω χριστω εν τω θεω). What does it mean that our life is hidden with Christ in God?
Scripture is full of curious phrases that are intended to cause the reader to think deeply and engage his or her imagination. So, I’m not against odd phraseology. However, in this case I’m not sure the wording is suppose to be quite so enigmatic.
Verse 1 says Christ is sitting “at the right hand of God” (εν δεξια του θεου), and this should inform how we understand the phrase εν θεω in verse 3. I think εν θεω is shorthand for εν δεξια του θεου καθημενος. Our life has been hidden with Christ at the right hand of God. So, I would translate Colossians 3:3 this way:
For you died and your life has been hidden with Christ, beside God.
Maybe this sounds even more odd to you, but I can’t get away from the similarity of wording between 3:1 and 3:3. I also think this understanding of the last phrase packs a much bigger applicational punch. It means more to the reader (at least this one).
In this section of the book Paul is drawing implications from the fact that we are united with Christ. His point is that we should think on (3:1) and seek (3:2) things above because we died with Christ, were raised with Christ, and are seated with him on the throne. Christians must seek kingdom virtues because their identity as a child of the King is more real than their identity as fallen humans in a fallen world. In 3:3 Paul is not employing some mysterious spatial metaphor, but a royal one. Because we are united with the exalted Christ — and even sit on the throne at the right hand of the Father with him — we are not enslaved to the downward spiraling patterns of this world.
Where is Christ? At the right hand of God.
Where are we? With Christ, beside God.